Category Archives: Travel

Playa el Palmar, San Carlos

Feb 1 – When Jim designed this trip, he divided it into three parts: a week of culture (Panama City), a week in the mountains (El Valle de Antón), and a week at the beach. You’ve traveled with us for the first two adventures. Guess where we’re going now?

We had one more scrumptious breakfast (and I did the dishes one last time in cold water) then we packed up, taking all our leftover food and condiments with us to our new apartment.

We bade farewell to the family of squawky ducks who kept up a conversational racket under our window 24/7.

We wheeled our bags to the bus stop on the main road. Within five minutes a van pulled up with our destination on the windshield – San Carlos. We got in and watched as the 15 passenger van took on at least 20 people, then stopped wherever a person stood waiting to get on or signaled to get off, as we traveled down the mountainside. Although others paid with a dollar and received change, we were charged $2 each for the experience.

In about 45 minutes, we reached the beach (playa), and the bus let us off in front of the huge Playa el Palmar building – 28 stories tall and the only skyscraper around. We walked about 10 minutes in the broiling midday sun down a private road until we reached a security booth.

There it is!

We had to show our passports to the security guard to get in, and the landlord left Jim a series of videos (in Spanish, of course) explaining the code to work the door and how to operate the state of the art appliances. We’ve never been in a place like this, ever!

We’re on the 22nd floor – vertigo inducing when you look down!
One of our pool choices, with the beach just beyond. Looks like a resort ad!
There are the two pools, seen from our veranda

Now, if you’ve been traveling with us for a while, you know that we are modest travelers who don’t go in for anything posh. So, everything about this place is just blowing my mind. Our bedroom wall is floor to ceiling glass, looking out at the Pacific.

View from our bed
View to the left
View to the right

The downside (and there always is one) is that this hi-rise is not near the town, and the commenters said it’s definitely not a place to stay if you don’t have a car. Jim took this as a challenge – there’s no place that we can’t walk! But the lack of shade and consistent temperature of 90 / feels like 95 every day will be interesting. Stay tuned!

Loma el Pastoreo / The Grazing Hill

Jan 30 – Jim had one more hike on his list, so we set off this morning in another direction to find Loma el Pastoreo / the Grazing Hill.

Wall art!
A calf tied to a roadside fence – maybe she’d like to come grazing on the hill.

We walked down a road that was not a main road. On either side were large private homes behind stone walls and iron gates. So peaceful and so pretty.

More high-stepping horses!
These horses looked sad
The yellow frog is the national animal of Panama. It is an endangered species, so this is probably the only one we will see.
Yes! If we ever get a palatial retreat, we will name it Villa Amnesia.

We finally reached the trailhead, if you can call it that. It looked more like a dry stream bed, full of sticks and rocks. Jim said, Up! So up we went.

I’m coming as fast as I can!

After a steep, but mercifully short scrabble, we reached the vista. We could see in all directions. It was so windy!

Happy Jim!

Our time in El Valle is drawing to a close. We had dinner at the Colombian restaurant, with excellent patacones (fried plantain chips as big as your hand), and one more evening walk down the main road. El Valle has been a magical place for us, and we’re going to miss it.

Mariposario / Butterfly Haven

Jan 28 – I’m hobbling like Grampa from The Real McCoys today (who is old enough to get that reference?), so we won’t be traveling very far.

Lucky for us, we are just down the road from the Butterfly Haven.

The owner, an Italian, bought this place two years ago and has been raising 15 species of butterflies and releasing the surplus to the wild. He spent all the time we wanted showing us the different species and answering questions.
The butterflies seem to like him
The Blue Morpho looks like an owl’s eye when at rest so predators won’t mess with it
Swallowtails
Monarch?
The Blue Morpho really likes Jim!
Some feed on fermenting fruit
Others prefer feeding from little tubes of honey water
Some tiny ones
So many different kinds!
We saw some really big caterpillars, and a PBS movie on the lifecycle of the butterfly
The cocoons are wrapped to keep them safe
The Blue Morpho was definitely my favorite!

A gentle activity on a peaceful day.

La India Dormida

Jan 27 – After a day of rest, today was a day for action! We had an early breakfast and set out for El Valle’s most famous hike, up La India Dormida. Although the reviews called the hike ‘challenging, steep, rocky, and moderate to difficult’, Jim assured me that it would be no problem for an experienced hiker like me. Famous last words.

We walked all the way through town, then down a road another mile to the start of the trail.

There’s La India
We paid the $3 per person entrance fee and off we went
A big boulder contained ancient petroglyphs, sheltered from the weather by the slant of the rock face.
This is believed to be an ancient map
More petroglyphs – what do you think they represent?
The trail started out benignly…
…but soon we were scrabbling over big rocks
A pretty waterfall
Up and up we go!
Another petroglyph boulder
We reached a clearing where we could see across the valley. At this point, I called ‘no mas!’- I could go no further.
Others must have had the same idea, as there was a very uncomfortable bench built here.
Jim was determined to get to the summit, and continued the climb for another half hour. I waved farewell and sat on my bench.
Jim graciously shared his pix of the summit ridge…
…and the town in the valley below

Jim climbed back down, all happy, and we ate our lunch on the bench. You might think that scrabbling down is easier than climbing up, and sometimes you’d be right, but the muscles at the front of my thighs had already given all they had to give, and our descent was painfully slow.

Stopping for a breather – at least one of us is smiling

We finally made it down, then only had to walk one more mile to get back home. It was a long mile! We stopped halfway for a strawberry ice cream cone, which made me feel better, then home for a hot shower, which made me feel better still.

An interesting day.

A Walk Around El Valle

Jan 26 – Happy birthday to our Lexi, 12 years old today! Baba and Grandad love you forever.

Who knew that sitting on a bus could make you so tired? Maybe it’s the higher elevation? Or maybe we’re just slowing down to vacation pace. We decided to take it easy today and see what there was to see in town.

We were drinking our morning coffee in bed (Jim, the best husband ever, brings me coffee in bed every morning, no matter where we are), when it got suddenly quiet. On this beautiful, sunny morning, the electricity went out! I wonder how often we should expect this? And how long will it last?

Our two burner stove works on propane, and there’s only cold water in the tap anyway, so there was really no impact, and Jim made us a yummy breakfast. I washed the dishes, heating up a pot of hot water for the final rinse. We know how to do this!

El Valle is a tourist town. It’s located inside the crater of an ancient volcano, with green peaks and ridges surrounding it in every direction. Less than 10 years ago, the streets were unpaved and the offerings few, but the perfect climate (high of 80, low of 65 consistently every day) and the lure of nearby mountain hiking made this a destination town.

Now the main street is paved and lit, with sidewalks and a bike path. Italian restaurants (pizza and pasta) proliferate, although there are eateries of many kinds: Chinese, Peruvian, Colombian, Thai, and Creole. There are several well-stocked supermarkets, and a variety of things to do and see.

The most famous mountain is La India Dormida, the Sleeping Indian. Can you see her below, her head on the right with green hair flowing?

La India Dormida
The benches and planters along the main street have been prettily hand-painted
Maybe we should get tattoos?
The local church
Lovely stained glass
My favorite statue: “Aieee John – that water is cold!”
A high-stepping horse! Lexi said it’s a Friesian, often used for dressage.
When’s the last time you saw a seesaw at a playground? Jim and I told each other tales of injuring our younger siblings on one, back in the day.
Wall art!

As we walked, we kept looking in shops to see if the electricity had returned, but no bueno. The supermercados had generators to keep the cold food cases cold, which was a good thing.

Jim made supper a little early, because we weren’t sure how we would see our way around the apartment once the sun went down. Then, hallelujah! The electricity was back and we ran inside to recharge all our devices and take a warm shower. It doesn’t take much to make us happy these days!

El Valle de Antón

Jan 25 – This morning we packed our bags, had one more breakfast that couldn’t be beat, and Ubered over to the Gran Terminal Nacional de Transporte, otherwise known as the bus terminal at the Albrook Mall.

The terminal was huge, and we were passed from one tout to the next until we reached the booth selling tickets to El Valle de Antón. Tickets cost $4.50 each, for a three hour ride.

We were directed onto a bus, and sat there for about half an hour until there were sufficient customers for us to leave. The bus was not a shiny new one like the city buses, nor was it as large, but it did have air conditioning. It also played loud mariachi music.

We saw some of the old, colorful “chicken buses” at the bus terminal, but none were in use.

As soon as we left the terminal, the bus stopped on what seemed like every corner until it was full. The music changed from mariachi to Spanish rap. Each bus has a driver and a guy who opens the door, yells out the destination and hops off to collect money as passengers get on and off. It took us a long time to get out of the city, in bumper to bumper traffic, with road construction all around. Now, this feels more like Central America!

After an hour or so, the traffic thinned and we started to make good time. After another hour, the driver turned off the air con and we started to climb. We’re going to the mountains!

We made it to El Valle!

At the third hour, we arrived in El Valle. The driver stopped the bus right at our place, and we hopped off.

Los Aramos, owned by a former ambassador, is full of European furniture and artwork, and has been made into apartments of various sizes. We have a bedroom, a bath and a full kitchen, so Jim will be able to cook for us. The multiple dining and living rooms are outdoors, and shared.

An outdoor dining area
A living room, including hammocks and a big TV
Another dining room!
I wanted to capture the exterior of our house, but it is literally covered in foliage. You can see a bit of the red roof.
The reception area
Loads of blooms here!

We will be here for a week enjoying the cooler weather and taking in the sights and the hiking trails. Stay tuned!

Ancon Hill

Jan 24 – Our week in Panama City is drawing to a close, and there is one more hill Jim wants to climb. It’s not near our end of town, so we called an Uber to get us to the foot of Ancon Hill.

It turned out to be more of a paved road than a trail, but it was nice and shady, and gave us glimpses of the city as we climbed.

The bay
The shiny city
At the top was a statue of Amelia Denis de Acaza, who wrote a poem to encourage her people to fight to reclaim Panama’s sovereignty in 1906
A plaque commemorating Jimmy Carter agreeing to return Panama to its people in 1977
The Panamanian flag, which can be seen for miles from atop Ancon Hill – the biggest flag in the country
A lovely Portuguese woman named Mathilde offered to take our picture
Looking toward the canal
So many shipping containers
The Bridge of the Americas
As we started back down the hill, we spied a monkey!
There he goes!
Safe in his tree
Looking down toward Casco Viejo – see the two towers of the Cathedral?
And back down – a fine activity for our last day in the city!

More Churches in Casco Viejo

Jan 23 – We approached the Old Town from a new direction, and what did we find? Chinatown! It seems that every city has one. This one was definitely not included in the modernization we’ve seen in other parts of the city.

Iglesia de la Merced, Church of Mercy, had lots of life-sized statues.

This one was called Jesus the King. Very regal, but his hair looks a little gray for a 30 year old
This one was called Poor Jesus. Maybe because of the outfit he has to wear?
“Oh Lord, how long must I hold this candle?”
My personal favorite – Jesus plucking his guardian angel’s last nerve

The church next door had a more modern feel. I really liked the artwork.

A mural dedicated to those lost to Covid 19

Jim read about a church here with a remarkable Nativity display. We found it!

The display had so many vignettes, we had a hard time finding the manger
Egyptians!
The Annunciation
Romans!
There they are!

The display continued into the next room, with modern characters:

A fun afternoon!

Mercado del Mariscos

Jan 23 – What to do today? We’re running out of major attractions to see in the city. Some tours and bloggers suggest a trip to the local fish market, so that is our plan for the morning.

Birds circling over a building was our first clue
More birds – we must be close!
Oh yeah – we can really smell the fish now
Lots of fish
Shrimp and prawns (camarones) in all sizes – my favorite!
Sea bass (corvina) is a popular fish here

After a tour of all the choices, we went outside to the string of fish restaurants, all hawking the same lunch choices. I got camarones in garlic salsa with rice, and Jim opted for the pulpo (octopus) with yucca fries.

Yummy, and that yellow salsa was HOT!

Next to the market we saw lots of fishing boats at anchor. It was low tide, and some boats looked like they’d been there a long time.

We walked further down the Cinta Costera, which we learned had just been built in the last ten years to reclaim the waterfront area. We would have walked farther, but it was HOT, and the sun was beating down.

El Toro
Scooters for rent

We realized we were not far from the Casco Viejo (Old Town), and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon nosing around. More in the next post.

Metropolitan Natural Park / Parque Natural

Jan 22 – Today we left the shiny skyscrapers for a walk in the jungle. Within the city limits is Metropolitan Natural Park, offering a shady walk and a chance to see some local flora and fauna.

What are these kids looking at?
Turtles!
And more turtles!
I love these curly, ropey things
Nothing Jim likes more than a shady trail
The ranger pointed to a sloth in this tree – my camera is at maximum zoom, but I can’t see it – can you?
Here’s what the sloth would look like if we could see it!
A termite nest up in a tree
As we reached the top of the hill, we were met by a family of friendly coatimundi, looking for handouts and exploring people’s backpacks
This one was a little too aggressive for me!
From the hilltop we looked down on the city
There’s the Canal locks!
A view of Ancon Hill – Jim has plans to climb it later in the week
Hard to see, but a parade of leaf-cutter ants crossed our path…
…on their way home to their big anthill by the kapok tree
Dieffenbachia in the wild!
Not too much is blooming, but here are some!

We got back to the hotel and rewarded ourselves with an afternoon swim. For supper, we saw Sancocho on the menu, and remembered that this was one of the national dishes we were to try. Sancocho turned out to be chicken broth with a big piece of chicken breast, served with arroz blanco on the side. So…chicken soup with rice. Very nice!